Six Entrepreneurs Share Tricks For Diffusing Office Conflict

Arguments are bound to happen. Here's how to deal with them.
Six Entrepreneurs Share Tricks For Diffusing Office Conflict
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This story appears in the December 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

1. Confront it.

“If people come to me with a conflict, my first question is whether they’ve addressed the person or people directly. If they haven’t, I send them back. I’m clear about this expectation from day one, and employees’ performance reviews include ranking their ability to provide constructive feedback. Aligning incentives to this value has led to a zero-drama, zero-­gossip workplace.” -- Lauren Schulte, CEO and founder, The Flex Company


2. Know when to cut ties.

“I subscribe to the notion that there are three sides to every story -- yours, mine and the truth that lies somewhere in between. Addressing conflicts and working to find mutual goals, together, is the best way to handle clashes and even find ways to collaborate more deeply. All that said, sometimes issues can’t be resolved. And sometimes dissolution is the best resolution for everyone.” -- Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO, KWT Global 


3. Take it outside. 

“We tend to resolve minor conflicts and issues quickly. That said, when people have fundamental differences in how they’re approaching individual or team decisions, I find it’s best to just grab some time over coffee or beers outside the office. Being in a different setting tends to add levity to situations that sometimes just need that sort of perspective.” -- Paul Hedrick, founder and CEO, Tecovas  


4. Embrace it.

“I have worked with my cofounder, Dan Leibu, for more than 20 years, and we love to debate. It may seem like fighting at times, but it is simply our pushing each other toward the best possible outcome. So in this context, conflict is good. We had a doozy two years ago when we were trying to figure out our position in the world of health insurance. We both had to compromise, but once we landed in a shared place, we moved forward with clarity and purpose. Pressure makes diamonds, or so the saying goes.” -- Michael Serbinis, founder and CEO, League


5. Keep it constructive.

“Conflict is healthy if done right. We have one important distinction between healthy and unhealthy conflict: If the disagreement is within the perspective of improving something, it’s great. But if the goal is to tear down or obstruct, it’s unhealthy. We say, ‘Be critical, not cynical.’ ” -- Christian Lanng, CEO, Tradeshift 


6. Designate a mediator.

“Our onboarding process makes employees aware that they have both their direct team managers and the HR manager to discuss issues with. Oftentimes when conflicts arise, it’s most helpful for employees to talk it out with someone who’s not directly involved and has no stakes. Knowing that it’s not one employee against the other helps ease the side effects of bruised egos.” -- Alexandra Fine, CEO, Dame Products 

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